Learning Voodoo

We’ve just had a full day intensive on Educational Theory as part of our Congregational Ministry subject.
The final part of the session involved talking about learning styles and doing a couple of  Questionnaires to work out how you operate.
If you’re like me, you’ve probably done this plenty of times in work, Church, or uni contexts…
If you’re really like me, you probably hate them with all the passion of a mis-spent post-modern youth.
Woe to you, Essentialists.
Just stop trying to label me,
c’mon man.
<puts down bucket of irony>

Strangely though, whenever I am put in a room where Personality Testing is taking place I find that it tends to provoke a period of fruitful philosophical reflection (It’s probably a strategy to avoid answering the questions).

My juicy cogitation has led me to think that what we are really doing in ‘Personality Testing’, and all this theorising about learning styles, is a simplified Phenomenology – an attempt to describe how we structure our experiences.

‘We are the only beings for whom ‘Being’ is a question’ … and all too often Contemporary Beings express that questioning through Questionnaires. It’s a terrible cop-out, rather than genuine engagement with The Question: ‘what am I?’, we surrender to the comfort of being told, labelled, categorised.

The methodology of Personality Testing Questionnaires makes them virtually useless for genuine existential (the structure of consciousness) description. The major weakness is that they cannot quantify the context specific nature of decisions and relational strategies. However, I’m also faintly suspicious that their explanatory power has as much to do with suggestion and over-generalisation as genuine personality traits. Have you ever heard the instructor read out the list of types…
“You are the Concrete Random mindstyle. You like Imagination, Creativity, Fluffy animals, and Long Walks in the Rain.”
It works the same way as a Horoscope – you read yourself into it. You’ve been told that you have to be one of four types so you sift your set of experiences to fit into the structure.  You could get the same thing from Athena Starwoman or any side-show psychic.

I’ll try to be a little bit fair, PTQ’s probably do have some good points. They certainly can provoke existentiell (first-person questioning of the meaning of life, etc) reflection.
At least, they do in my case,
particularly after a few hours of it.

Further, our lecturer made the very useful point that in the Questionnaire you will tend not to select options that reflect what you don’t like or don’t want to be like. As a result, the personality types that you score least upon are likely to be a useful indication of the types of people that you will find frustrating or look down upon. I’m willing to accept this conclusion because, as much as I’m sure typecasting doesn’t work for me, it’s probably a reliable guide to everyone else.
In seriousness, I think that the negative results are slightly more methodologically sound, and could be quite useful in working with other people.
In case you’re wondering, I really don’t always play well with Concrete Sequential and Abstract Random type people (from Mindstyles). Sorry, I still love you guys.

I did find the VARK website quite handy. I think that their underlying approach is a bit more sensible. It has an online Learning Styles Questionnaire but the really useful stuff is in the Helpsheets – guides for how to study according to your learning style.

On a different point, check out this great little critical introduction to Heidegger called, aptly, Heidegger: a (very) critical introduction. It’s a product of the Centre for Theology and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham so it’s attempting an integrated Philosophical/Theological engagement with Heidegger’s thought. It’s making me think of Heidegger as primarily a Lutheran theologian.

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